New CDC campaign plans to address healthcare worker burnout. Will it succeed?

By Claire Wolters | Fact-checked by Davi Sherman
Published November 7, 2023

Key Takeaways

  • This October, the CDC launched the first federal campaign to address healthcare worker burnout.

  • The campaign provides hospitals with resources for facilitating a healthy workplace and steps for how to assist staff in need.

  • Despite encouraging implementation, the campaign does not require or legally enforce its steps, causing some doctors to question its change-making ability.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) seeks to address healthcare worker burnout through a new campaign called Impact Wellbeing.

Launched last Tuesday, Impact Wellbeing is the first federal campaign for hospitals to tackle healthcare worker burnout. It is orchestrated through the CDC’s National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) and will provide hospital leaders with “evidence-informed solutions to reduce healthcare worker burnout, sustain wellbeing, and build a system where healthcare workers thrive,” the campaign website says.

“It’s our hope that the Impact Wellbeing campaign truly equips hospital leaders with the evidence-backed, customized tools they need to accelerate and sustain organizational level change at their hospital, for their specific workforce,” says John Howard, MD, Director of the NIOSH.

What will Impact Wellbeing do?

Impact Wellbeing provides actionable steps for addressing burnout, facilitating a healthier work environment, and creating a workflow that supports and assists staff in crisis.

The campaign also encourages hospital leaders to remove “intrusive mental health questions” from questionnaires on hospital credentialing applications, which, according to a press release, is “one of the most substantial system barriers to healthcare worker wellbeing.”

The campaign provides a toolkit with three steps to eliminate intrusive questions: Audit, Change, and Communicate.

Adding action to education

Unlike previous efforts that focused on raising awareness for the issue, Impact Wellbeing is unique in its decision to prioritize action, Dr. Howard says. 

This decision came from feedback provided by hospital leaders and healthcare workers during campaign development talks, he adds. 

“Both groups are aware of burnout and it being an issue, so the need for education about burnout isn’t really the problem,” Dr. Howard says. “What both groups really want, and need, are local, hospital-specific solutions to improve healthcare worker wellbeing in their individual workplace, which is why the Impact Wellbeing campaign is so important and timely.”

Leaders also hope that the campaign can reduce rising rates of healthcare burnout, which previous campaigns have been unable to accomplish.

“Many organizations, including [the] NIOSH, have made progress and great strides in improving understanding of what our healthcare workers and hospital leaders face every day and implementing solutions,” Dr. Howard says. “Yet…much has stayed the same or even worsened.”

Burnout: An industry crisis

Worker burnout is a massive problem in the healthcare industry—and it's growing.

From 2018 to 2022, the number of healthcare workers who reported feeling burned out at work increased from 32% to 46%; the number of healthcare workers who said looking for a new job increased from 33% to 44%; and the number of healthcare workers who reported workplace harassment more than doubled, according to CDC data. In the US, suicide rates are higher among registered nurses, health technicians, and healthcare support workers than non-healthcare workers, according to a 2023 study in the Journal of the American Medical Association.[][]

“The problem is huge and affects nearly every healthcare worker,” says Kristen Fuller, MD, a physician and MDLinx Board Member. “Burnout is due to long hours, the intensity of the job, not enough days off, poor treatment from employers, etc., and it has taken the lives of many healthcare workers—not to mention the many who have left medicine.”

Dr. Howard says that even before the pandemic, healthcare workers faced challenging working conditions like “long work hours, risk for hazardous exposures, stressful work, and high administrative burdens that can lead to burnout.” He adds that the pandemic has brought the crisis to new heights and that the industry faces a joint “healthcare worker burnout and mental health crisis.”

Pandemic perks?

While the pandemic exacerbated burnout, it also led to more funding for mental health initiatives—Impact Wellbeing being one of them. The campaign is made possible by the COVID-19 American Rescue Plan of 2021, according to the CDC press release. More specifically, Impact Wellbeing is funded through the Dr. Lorna Breen Heroes’ Foundation.[]

Corey Feist, JD, MBA, Co-founder and President of the Dr. Lorna Breen Heroes’ Foundation, says that future reauthorizations of the Dr. Lorna Breen Health Care Provider Protection Act, as well as increased funding, may be needed to fund Impact Wellbeing into the future.

“This critical legislation is not just a matter of policy; it’s a critical piece of the health delivery supply chain that benefits not only health workers but [also] every patient, every caregiver, every person who will require medical care in their lifetime,” Feist says.

Is a campaign enough to stop burnout?

Since Impact Wellbeing is still in its early stages, it's unclear whether it will be impactful enough to facilitate substantial change in the industry. Dr. Fuller expresses doubts about the campaign’s success, particularly regarding its ability to put an end to intrusive questioning.

“It is a good attempt at showing recognition of the issue, but in the end, there should be legislation protecting healthcare providers from having to share their intrusive mental health history on credentialing applications,” Dr. Fuller says. “I assume that most hospital administrators will still ask healthcare employees intrusive mental health questions on hospital credentialing applications.”

Time—and future data—will tell if the campaign inspires change.

“For healthcare workers, we want them to know we heard them, and this campaign is a direct reflection of their needs—getting operational issues that impact their wellbeing at their hospitals addressed by their leadership,” Dr. Howard says. “Although some causes of burnout may take time to address, Impact Wellbeing is here to help hospital leaders get there.”

What this means for you

A new CDC campaign seeks to address healthcare worker burnout through encouragement and resources.

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